Excerpts from Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Hena


I said, “Hena, I am going to war again, to fight for the Ameer. I won’t come back. Even if I live, I won’t come back.” Hena buried herself in my chest and cried, “Sohrab, my love! Yes, go wherever you will. Now is the time to tell you how much I love you. I won’t hide the truth anymore. I won’t cause my love further pain.”

For all latest news, follow The Daily Star’s Google News channel.

France

A thick forest by Paris

I had to come to this dense forest yesterday. I have no clue why we had to fall back. This is the beauty of military life– the order comes and you have to do it. You can never ask, “Why do I have to do it?”

There is a strange beauty in accepting the rules, in this gambling of one’s life. A strange softness in thunder. If the entire world could conform to such a military regime, then the entire world would turn into a heaven on earth.

***

Well, well! What do I see here? A friend of mine is trying to take a nap on that tree. See, he has tied himself with his belt to a branch quite tightly. It will be quite a joke if he falls down into that waterbody down there.

Should I shoot by his ear? Why? Poor thing! Let him sleep awhile. Nobody except me has such hapless eyes that they would not be able to sleep. Nobody has such a mind either that would think of all the silly things of the world.

It’s late at night I believe. I guess I will have to stay in this position like a rooster till dawn. . . . Perhaps when I am old (if I live that long), these memories will turn into sweet ones.

The game of shadow and light!

What’s that bird calling out in the distance? The songs of the birds of this country elicit a strange sadness. I find it intoxicating.

In this light and shadow, I can recall so much! But most of it is full of pain. I recall telling her, “I love you so much, Hena.”

***

My cottage in Quetta

Near the grapevine garden

What happened? I was thinking while seated at this walnut and pear garden. All our Indian soldiers returned, and so did I. But how happily did those two years pass by!

After becoming an officer, I also received the title “Sardar Bahadur.” My boss would not let go of me. How can I make him understand that I am not here to purchase bonds. I did not go over to the land of the seven seas with any high ideals. I only went to purify myself- to bury myself too.

And I never thought I would return here of all places. But I had to– it seems I am tied to this land.

I have no one and nothing. And yet I feel, everything is here. Who am I trying to pacify?

I have not hurt anybody; nobody hurt me. Still, I feel an inexpressible pain.

Hena! There’s nobody around and yet I feel the echo of “na” all around me.

The brook through the hill is still flowing, but the girl Hena, whose footsteps are still discernible on the stone-steps, is gone.

***

I have found her! She is — here. Hena! My Hena! I just saw you here today, here in Peshawar! Why then did you hide such a big truth?

She watched me from a distance and cried. She did not utter one word; she only stared at me and shed tears.

In such meetings, tears are most expressive. And then she told me again that she is still not able to love me.

That “no” was such a pitiful yearning that made even the air around us sad.

The biggest puzzle in this world is the mind of a woman.

Kabul

Dakka camp

When I heard that the great man Ameer Habibullah khan had been martyred, I felt that the top of the Hindukush must have fallen off. Suleiman mountain must have been torn out– roots and all.

And I wondered what I should do. For ten days I kept on thinking.

Then I decided that I would fight for Ameer. Why? Well, there’s no answer to why. But let me say candidly that I do not consider the British as my enemy. I have always thought of them as friends. So, was my sacrifice a gesture to protect the weak? I do not know. Even I do not understand my own whims.

That morning, someone had set fire to the pomegranates. Perhaps, it was the blood of many like me.

***

I said, “Hena, I am going to war again, to fight for the Ameer. I won’t come back. Even if I live, I won’t come back.”

Hena buried herself in my chest and cried, “Sohrab, my love! Yes, go wherever you will. Now is the time to tell you how much I love you. I won’t hide the truth anymore. I won’t cause my love further pain.”

I understood. She was a warrior-woman, a daughter of the Afghans. Even though I have spent my entire life fighting, she had wanted me to fight for our country. She wanted me to sacrifice my life for our land.

***

My body has absorbed five bullets. Up until I lost consciousness, how I had held the enemy at bay!

O my Creator! If protecting my country with my blood makes me a martyr, so that’s what I am. I have done my duty with my last breath.

***

The Ameer has given me a place in his room. I am one of the leaders of his army.

And Hena? There is Hena, sleeping by my side, clinging to my chest. Her heart is still fluttering in some unknown fear. Her sighs are still pervading the winds with some dissatisfaction.

Poor me! I have been badly wounded! Let me sleep. No, we’ll sleep together. O God, don’t trouble us by waking from this dreamless slumber.

Sohana Manzoor teaches English at ULAB. She is also the Literary Editor of  The Daily Star.